There is perhaps no other rock band whose music has been more misunderstood in the last seven years than that of alternative rockers Silversun Pickups. I previously addressed this at length in my review of the band’s fine second effort Swoon, but in essence, what many critics (and fans) think is a glaring Smashing Pumpkins influence in the band’s music—fuzz-drenched guitars—is actually a My Bloody Valentine-inspired sound, according to statements made by lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Brian Aubert in countless interviews over the years. He is also influenced by Neil Young and Doug Martsch of Built To Spill (in terms of his guitar style). That does not mean, however, that all such influences will turn up in a musician like Aubert’s songs. Unintentional similarities to other bands can and often does happen instead.
For instance, on the California group’s latest and third album Neck of the Woods (Dangerbird Records), the dance-ready electronic beats of “The Pit” sound like Depeche Mode or New Order. Likewise, “Kissing Families,” from SSPU’s debut 2005 EP Pikul comes straight out of The Pixies style of guitar-based indie pop, complete with boy-girl vocal tradeoffs (with bassist Nikki Monninger’s soft vocals playing the part of Kim Deal on this occasion). Was Aubert and his three band mates influenced by these groups? Not necessarily. Only the people who wrote the music truly know.
The point is, there’s a BIG difference between pointing out one band’s similarities to another, and spotting their influences. Therefore, critics from the likes of Pitchfork and PASTE should know better by now than to assume SSPU were greatly influenced by and sound like Billy Corgan’s beloved group then and now. As I’ve said before, there’s a couple of riffs on Carnavas that sound SP-esque, but that’s about it.
The Silversun Pickups are their own band and have their own style, and never has this been on more of a display than on their new record. Lead single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)” gives a fresh take on the old and mostly indie-based dream pop sound. The tune’s synth-based soundscapes, courtesy of keyboardist Joe Lester, and overall production—enhanced by former U2 and R.E.M. producer Jacknife Lee—is of their own making but for comparison’s sake, it’s closer to School of Seven Bells than My Bloody Valentine.
One pleasant surprise was to hear acoustic guitars make a return to a SSPU release, having previously shown up on Pikul several years back. On the heavy and rocking “Mean Spirits,” the Drop-D-tuned electric and acoustic guitars give this record a much needed energy boost and features the catchiest lyrics on it, via the chorus: “I love to play and sing along.” Then, much like “Dream At Tempo 119″ from hit debut record Carnavas, just when you think the song is over, Aubert and crew blast right back for several more bars of loud rock goodness before calling it a song for good.
Aside from those two, other standouts include the mostly musically light but vocally intense and moody “Make Believe” and the aforementioned cut, “The Pit,” which are both about not being able to escape one’s own haunted past. Also, Chris Guanlao’s driving drum attack highlights the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics of the nearly seven-minute-long track, “Simmer.”
In all, Neck of the Woods is a pretty good record. I wish it was a better all-around great one, but there are dark and desolate moments (“Here We Are (Chancer)”), songs that stay sour and minor-keyed for way too long (“Busy Bees”), and unappealing experimental beat-heavy types (“Gun-Shy Sunshine”) that make your mind wander away from the music. I can understand the group’s desire to let songs have their space and grow, but with most songs being over five minutes long, there’s just not enough attention-grabbing material on here or long songs with memorable payoffs.
For tour dates and other info on Silverun Pickups, go to their official website.